BMW has been testing a hydrogen powered i8 research vehicle, which points to the future of the i brand
1 July 2015

BMW has lifted the veil of secrecy on one of its most advanced research vehicles to date.

The futuristic-looking prototype, pictured here in a series of official photographs for the first time, has been used as a rolling test bed for the German company’s hydrogen fuel cell technology, which is planned to head into large-scale production by 2020, according to the head of BMW’s vast research and development operations, Klaus Fröhlich.

Based around the contemporary new i8, the sleek two-door coupé relies on carbonfibre construction to keep its weight down and also features an aerodynamic package honed at BMW’s wind tunnel in Munich.

Stylistically, the latest in a long line of research vehicles to be made public by BMW hints at the look to be adopted by future production models from BMW’s fledgling i brand, with a new angular interpretation of the traditional kidney grille and fully integrated slimline headlights.

Large air ducts sited up front are used to feed air to a series of front-mounted radiators, while the layered surfacing treatment of the i8 has given way to a more simplistic exterior design, especially at the rear.

BMW is holding back on technical details, although Autocar can confirm that the BMW research vehicle, which was constructed back in 2012 and remains unnamed, sites its fuel stack at the rear in the position usually taken up by the i8’s compact turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine.

Energy for the fuel stack is provided by cryogenically stowed hydrogen contained in a cylindrical tank mounted down the centre line of the car’s platform and oxygen provided by cooling air. The fuel stack subsequently provides electricity to run a rear-mounted electric motor, with the only emissions being water.

Power is put at 242bhp – 115bhp less than the petrol-electric hybrid system used by the production i8.  BMW also quotes a 0-62mph time of less than 6.0sec and top speed around of 124mph.

While used extensively in recent years, BMW says its hydrogen fuel cell prototype has recently been taken out of service. Having formed a joint venture with Toyota and accelerated plans to place a hydrogen fuel cell model into its production cars, the German car maker has now advanced its research to include a number of road-going 5 Series GT-based prototypes.

Unveiled this week, the latest prototypes feature the same fuel cell stack used by Toyota in its pioneering Mirai – the world’s first widespread commercially available hydrogen fuel cell car.      

BMW has a history of high-tech hydrogen-fuelled research vehicles. In 2006, it revealed the H2R, a teardrop shaped single-seater used to establish a number of speed records at the company’s Miramas test track in France. Unlike the latest fuel cell-based research vehicle, though, it used a 6.0-litre V12 engine adapted to run on liquid hydrogen. With 281bhp, the H2R established nine FIA-ratified speed records and ran to a top speed of 187mph.

Read more:

BMW 5 Series GT Fuel Cell concept review

BMW 2 Series Active Tourer eDrive review

Get the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below:

Our Verdict

BMW i8
The BMW i8 joins the i3 as part of the firm's 'i' range of vehicles

Can BMW's baby hypercar blow the lid off performance convention?

Join the debate

Comments
10

2 July 2015
I think there's room for the current hybrid system and Hydrogen,what with wireless charging coming along and Pump style fueling with Hydrogen.I even read today that,in the not to distant future that households in the future could have Hydrogen power stations,ie, water is pumped in and turned into Hydrogen which in turn is converted into power for their Homes,anyway,two ways to power Cars without fossils fuels can't be a bad thing,can it?

Peter Cavellini.

2 July 2015
They should concentrate on the plug-in, it's already in production and will be knocking on the door of 200 miles plus in EV form and hybrid cars should be targetting 50 miles on Electric power alone. Both are achievable before 2020

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

2 July 2015
The BMW 5 Hydrogen prototype car runs at the equivant of between 55-60 mpg (BMW test figures), will probably cost £25,000 more, needs the fuel stack replacing at 125,000 miles and can only be re-fuelled inside Swindon, who in their right mind can make a financial argument for that!

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

2 July 2015
...but consider the share space needed for electric cars while they top up. But petrol or diesel cars need say 5 - 10 minutes. At best an electric car 30 - 40. That implies far more space is needed for electric cars. While they're topping up. And space especially in cities costs real lot. So I'm not entirely surprised that city planners - like the idea that an electric car can be topped up in 5 - 10 minutes like internal combustion engined car. But that's what hydrogen fuel cell cars essentially are - electric cars. The fuel cell supplying power to the electric engine, instead of the car having a stack of batteries.

2 July 2015
We've to respect BMW for holding up the Europe's flag in the development of new technologies while much larger car makers are adding urine to their diesels.

Myk

2 July 2015
"Unveiled this week, the latest prototypes feature the same fuel cell stack used by Toyota in its pioneering Mirai – the world’s first commercially available hydrogen fuel cell car". I think owners of the Honda FCX might want to challenge you on this "world's first" claim.

2 July 2015
Neither of them are really commercially available.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

2 July 2015
xxxx wrote:
They should concentrate on the plug-in
Toyota and BMW have billions in cash and squadrons of PhD'd engineers researching this. But guess what - you knew best all along!
xxxx wrote:
Neither of them are really commercially available.
It's funny how, in your world, hydrogen power is dead in the water (despite just being productionised, no less - to most sane people this is a significant step forward) but fabulous "plug in" technology (which never appears) is always just around the corner. Psychologists refer to this as "denial".
xxxx wrote:
who in their right mind can make a financial argument for that!
I've seen it all now - a dyed-in-the-wool EV fan criticising the "financial argument" for other types of fuel!
xxxx wrote:
will be knocking on the door of 200 miles plus in EV form and hybrid cars should be targetting 50 miles on Electric power alone. Both are achievable before 2020
And you base this on? Pure and utter fantasy, of course. If anyone knows the capabilities of upcoming battery tech (and not state-subsidised vanity gimmicks like Tesla) it's the privately-run concerns like BMW (and Toyota) selling them, who must make a living out of it. Clearly, they don't appear to agree with you. The Model S only gets a reasonable range because the battery pack is enormous, incredibly heavy and therefore only makes sense in a similarly huge and expensive car.

2 July 2015
you are a joke. Go on then make an argument for a H car that costs 3 times as much to buy as a diesel and can only match a diesels running costs (if you can find a place to fill that is). No one would buy one and no one does. I'll tell you what if the up-coming Toyota joke outsells plug-in's in two years time I'll promise to never post again, if not you'll never post. Deal or are you full of *&%^?

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

3 July 2015
It took years for modern electric cars to build up their poor reputation and bring the prices down to above average costs. And they are still expensive and the batteries need replacing after 5 years. Personally I don't do 25k a year so the hydrogen tank will last longer than batteries or you could just pay Renault £35 a month to rent a battery which only lasts 5 years. And then the batteries which are made out of heavy metals need to be recycled. And the hydrogen cars will keep working in temps of 0C. And the only way to make a electric cars faster is to fit bigger motors and bigger batteries. As BMW have helpfully proved, not always the case for hydrogen. Why the hate for hydrogen?? Pop pop.

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week